At the crossroads

In my previous school the crossroads was where entry into the school dissected with the exit, but more than that it was a place of ritual for school sport. Rituals of meetings, greetings, departures and journeys. Also rituals of questions and reflections. Without fail, the first question that a player was met with as they stepped off the bus or the pitch was ‘how did you do?‘. That or a derivative question with the aim to find out what the result was. Once this vitally important piece of information is obtained it was usually followed up by platitudes, the type depending on whether they won or they lost.

In getting young people to reflect on their immediate experiences of school sport, perhaps we can prioritise questions that are not of the quantitative variety.

What was your favourite shot of the day?

What made it special?

What did it feel like?

What did you enjoy the most about playing today?

By deliberately avoiding questions about the result, we can begin to expand the meanings of school sport beyond winning and losing. It may not seem much, but it is a good start, especially if we want school sport to enrich the lives of the young people and for them to build a positive relationship with sport for the rest of their lives. If the player wants to talk about winning, losing, scoring and results on their terms then that is different. They become important if they bring them up, but we can attend to the feelings, emotions and meanings that school sport can offer. That can be done through the questions that are asked and what that gets the young people to explore and focus upon.

We can do this not just for school sport, but for PE and school based physical activity as well. By having a list of meanings, we can craft our questions around them, assisting young people to search for, detect and understand what they might find of personal significance in movement. What sort of dialogue is initiated with the question ‘did you win‘ as opposed to ‘when did you feel in harmony with your body moving and the environment you are moving in?’ Getting a young person to explain how to hit a tennis ball correctly has value, but so does getting them to articulate what it feels like when they hit the tennis ball just right. The use of video cameras in lessons, to assist in self and peer assessment is growing, especially in facilitating skill acquisition. An alternative use of the camera is when you see someone obviously having fun, take a picture and show it to them later. Ask them what was so enjoyable about that moment and to share those thoughts with their peers.

The questions we ask expose our priorities. They put on display what our values are to young people and it shows what we value in them. Did they win? Then they are valuable. Did they lose? Then perhaps they aren’t. Every experience of movement at school has their own crossroads – an entry and exit point to that movement. If we want to make PE, school sport and school based physical activity a meaningful, educative and inclusive experience for all, then we need to reflect on questions we ask at those crossroads.

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